Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you may have heard of this new thing called CBD. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that CBD products — from CBD oils and brownies, to CBD gummy bears and even face creams — are everywhere these days. There’s even CBD oil for dogs.
There is a good reason for the sudden popularity of these products: reliable research has shown that CBD can help with dozens of health issues, from anxiety and chronic pain, to seizures and other neurological issues. And the same benefits apply to your furry, canine friend.
But What Exactly is CBD?
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a naturally occurring substance found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it will not get you high. In fact, most CBD products are derived from hemp, and not from marijuana (more on that later).
But did you know that it’s not only humans who can benefit from CBD’s therapeutic properties? CBD oil for dogs has also been proven effective.
CBD for Dogs: A Natural Alternative
While there seems to be no end to the stellar growth of CBD use for human wellness, more and more pet parents are also using CBD oil for dogs to help their pet companions cope with a variety of health issues.
Just like in humans, CBD can help dogs with muscle spasms, inflammation, chronic pain, seizures, arthritis, and behavioral problems like aggression or severe anxiety. Although there is no conclusive data to confirm this yet, some doctors and veterinarians believe that CBD even boasts anti-cancer properties.
Although research into the use of CBD oil for dogs is in its early stages — and there are no formal studies that confirm its effects — anecdotal evidence leaves little doubt: CBD has the same health-boosting properties for dogs as it does for humans.
Based on this, many vets are recommending CBD as an alternative (when possible) to man-made drugs or medications.
For example, dogs that suffer from epilepsy and seizures are often treated which drugs such as phenobarbital and potassium bromide. However, these substances do not work in all cases. Plus, taking the drugs can be harmful to a dog’s overall health, especially if the use is long term.
Results from the very first studies on the effects of CBD in treating epileptic dogs are encouraging: one study by the University of Colorado showed that 89% of dogs who received CBD had a reduction in the frequency of seizures, and had none of the side-effects associated with conventional drugs.
How is CBD Extracted?
CBD is naturally present in the flowers and buds of cannabis plants, but you won’t feel any of its benefits by simply chewing on them. In fact, you will only benefit from the cannabinoids once heat is applied during a process called decarboxylation.
Decarboxylation occurs when you smoke or vape CBD products, but it happens too fast for the body to truly reap the benefits (and it goes without saying that this is not an option available to your dog). Ingesting CBD that has been properly extracted and treated, on the other hand, will ensure you (or your pet) can absorb and take advantage of all the health-boosting properties CBD has to offer.
There are three common methods used to extract CBD:
- CO2 Extraction is one of the most advanced (and costly) ways of extracting CBD. This method uses supercritical carbon dioxide to separate the CBD oil from the hemp plant, and, if done correctly, it produces a safe, tasteless, and strong CBD extract.
- Olive Oil Extraction is a safe, natural, and simple extraction method. Because the extracted chemicals will stay mixed with olive oil, it is not as concentrated as other CBD products. Coconut oil is also commonly used, but is not as easy to digest as olive oil.
- Solvent Extraction uses different solvents (such as ethanol, butane, or alcohol) to extract the CBD. It is a cheap and common method, but it can be risky because of the chemicals involved and, if not done properly, it can leave toxic traces which are harmful to your dog.
Full-Spectrum CBD, Broad-Spectrum CBD, and Isolate CBD
When CBD shopping for yourself or for your dog, you may have come across products labeled as full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or CBD isolate. It’s important to know the difference between these different types of CBD, as each one has its own uses and benefits.
Full-spectrum CBD oil contains all the different substances present in the cannabis plant, and that’s a lot of compounds. There are over 100 phytocannabinoids in hemp plants, as well as hundreds of terpenes, traces of THC, and flavonoids.
In different combinations, these compounds can not only have their own positive impact, but reinforce one another’s. In 2015, a study by Lautenberg Center for General Tumor Immunology in Jerusalem found that, because of the way different compounds interact with each other (a process known as the Entourage Effect), full-spectrum CBD was more effective than CBD isolate. Full-spectrum CBD is a great option for dogs, but always make sure that it has 0.3% THC or less.
Broad-spectrum CBD contains many of the same compounds that full-spectrum does, so you and your dog can reap the benefits of the Entourage Effect, but with every trace of THC removed.
CBD Isolate is the purest type of CBD, and it contains up to 99.9% of CBD. It often comes in crystal or powder form, and can easily be mixed with other substances, making it easier to administer to your dog. This is a good choice if you are worried about THC traces (however low) entering your dog’s bloodstream.
Cannabis, Marijuana, or Hemp?
To put it simply: Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis. But hemp is not marijuana, and marijuana is not hemp.
The lack of clarity in terminology has led to confusion and controversy in terms of CBD’s legality, reputation, and potential health risks. Because of the implications of this confusion for people who buy CBD for themselves or for their pets, it’s very important to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana.
Hemp refers to varieties of Cannabis that contain 0.3% or less THC content, and the plants are commonly used in food, clothing, and other materials.
Marijuana is the name given to varieties of the Cannabis plant that contain more than 0.3% THC, and can induce psychotropic effects (meaning they get you high).
Almost all CBD for dogs comes from hemp plants, so the risk of there being much THC is close to none.
But with the rise in trend of CBD oil for dogs, pet parents are right to wonder about the safety of the products.
Could CBD Be Harmful to Dogs?
CBD is generally considered to be safe for animals, and the theory is backed up by research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), which deems that pure CBD is safe for animals. But there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to using CBD oil for dogs, and research into long term use of the drug is still in its early stages.
As with any medication or natural supplement, it’s best to start with a small dose and monitor your dog’s health for 24 hours, to avoid a possible reaction.
Because the pet CBD market has grown exponentially in only a few short years, it is flooded with products of various qualities. Make sure you do your research, and choose a high quality, trusted brand. Also, do not give your dog CBD treats meant for humans, as they may contain substances (such as the sweetener xylitol, chocolate, or raisins) that are toxic for dogs.
Will CBD Get My Dog High?
Pure CBD does not have psychoactive effects, meaning it will not get your dog high. CBD is meant to calm and relax your pet. CBD has a wide range of other health benefits as well, but does not induce any euphoric or hallucinatory effects, unlike its cousin THC, which does have psychotropic effects. But the dose of THC in quality CBD products for dogs is so low that the possibility of your dog getting high is null.
But if the idea of THC concerns you in any way, you can choose a product that has no THC at all. As you would with any product of this type, choose a trusted broad-spectrum brand, so you can be sure that the levels of THC are what it says on the box.
Is CBD Legal?
Laws and regulations have generally been slow to catch up with public opinion on CBD, but the 2018 Farm Bill marked a huge step forward for CBD lovers (and their dogs). This bill, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, legalized CBD that is derived from hemp and contains no more than 0.3% THC (by dry weight), while CBD that comes from Marijuana and still contains high amounts of THC remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
Since all CBD pet products contain very low or no THC, they are legal across the U.S.A., so you can help your dog achieve better health, safe in the knowledge that you are acting within the law.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved CBD for use in dogs (or humans, in fact), but research and testing are ongoing. The FDA has published this FAQ about FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products to help businesses and users navigate the ever-changing CBD landscape.
In fact, the FDA recently asked for public input on CBD, and more than 100 people used that opportunity to publicly speak about how their pets had benefited from the substance. Most of the comments related to how CBD had improved anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, and arthritis in dogs.
How Does CBD Oil Work?
The Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a relatively recent discovery, but it is already known as the “most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
First discovered in the 1990’s by researchers studying THC, the ECS is an incredibly complex network of cannabinoid receptors which are found in different cells throughout the body, from the brain and organs to the immune cells. Although scientists have yet to grasp the complexity of the ECS, this system is thought to regulate a wide range of functions, including:
- Reproduction and fertility
- Immune system
- Stress and anxiety
The ECS basically works like a bridge between body and mind, and between mental and physical health.
But what does this have to do with CBD?
There is still a lot to understand about how CBD interacts with the ECS. It does not bind with CB1 or CB2 receptors the way THC does, but scientists think that CBD prevents endocannabinoids (a type of cannabinoid that is naturally produced by the body) from breaking down, thus giving them a longer-lasting effect.
Another theory is that CBD binds with a receptor that has not been discovered yet. What is certain is that CBD helps with a plethora of ailments, and that what we know now may just be the tip of the iceberg.
All animals have an ECS as well, but the way in which CBD interacts with it is still relatively unknown. It is thought that, much like in humans, CBD helps keep the whole system balanced, promoting strong overall physical and mental health.
The Benefits of CBD for Dogs
An increasing number of dog owners are turning to specific CBD oil for dogs or CBD dog treats to help their furry friends through dozens of different medical conditions, and to improve their pet’s overall quality of life. As well as easing the severity of several physical and chronic ailments, CBD oil is commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety. Here are some of the ways CBD products can help your dog:
CBD for Pain Management
In August 2018, a Canadian company, Liberty Leaf, completed a study that looked at CBD and canine pain management. The results were positive: dogs given a daily dose of 0.3 milligrams of CBD oil showed reduced pain and better health after only four weeks.
CBD’s Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Inflammation is one aspect common in many different diseases, and while it is a way for the body to protect itself while it heals, prolonged inflammation can cause pain and emotional distress. Research has shown CBD’s ability to reduce inflammatory pain in animals, and CBD products are touted as nature’s cure for inflammatory diseases, including arthritis, ulcers, dermatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS).
CBD for Nausea
Nausea in dogs is common, and is caused by one of the dozens of illnesses or conditions (including IBS, food intolerances, cancer or cancer treatment, hernias, lung disease, and many more). According to a study at the University of Guelph, CBD has antiemetic properties, and it alleviates vomiting and nausea in animals. In addition to treating nausea itself, CBD will also reduce anxiety and other distress symptoms your dog may be experiencing.
CBD for Appetite Stimulation
While it may be hard to imagine a dog refusing its food, loss of appetite is (unfortunately) a common problem for older dogs, dogs with cancer, or dogs that are being treated for other illnesses. CBD can increase your dog’s appetite (which is important for a dog that is on the mend) by binding to and stimulating receptors in the brain that cause hunger.
CBD for Anxiety
Just like humans, our four-legged friends can suffer from depression, anxiety, phobias, and stress. CBD is a natural anti-anxiety remedy, and there is a lot of research out there that details its calming effects on humans and animals.
Although there are lots of man-made drugs out there that can help dogs with anxiety, they often come with some negative side effects that outweigh the benefits. CBD oil or CBD treats are quickly becoming the anti-anxiety drug of choice for dog owners across the country, and veterinarians are also starting to recommend these CBD products as a natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals.
CBD for Cancer Symptoms
Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to cancer, and an estimated one in three dogs will develop some form of cancer during their life. Finding out your dog has cancer will always be a shock, but the good news is that half of canine cancers are curable if they are caught early.
Although CBD oil is often touted as a cancer preventer (and there is some research to suggest that it may have some anti-cancer properties), one thing we do know for sure is that CBD is great at alleviating cancer symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and pain. While CBD is not a cancer treatment, it can complement traditional drugs (including chemotherapy), both by enhancing their positive effects, and by limiting their negative side effects.
CBD for Allergies
If you suffer from them, you know how debilitating allergies can be. Allergies are a state of hypersensitivity of the immune system to particular substances (known as allergens), such as proteins from animals, various foods, or plants. The most common allergies in dogs cause skin problems, as well as breathing issues (coughing and wheezing), irritated eyes, and digestive problems.
CBD works by boosting your dog’s immune system, reducing inflammation, and promoting overall health. The type of CBD product you choose for your dog depends on several factors, but it’s worth trying topical CBD creams for allergies that cause skin irritations.
CBD for Cardiovascular Health
An estimated 10% of dogs in the United States suffer from different forms of heart disease. The most common type is valvular heart disease, but heartworm and cardiomyopathy are also prevalent. Symptoms of heart disease vary and depend on many different factors, but can include lethargy, shortness of breath, coughing, weakness, and nervousness.
Heart diseases do not always present themselves with obvious symptoms, but they are nonetheless extremely detrimental to a dog’s health. CBD can not only help with the symptoms of heart disease, but can help prevent it and improve heart health. Research on rats and humans, for example, has shown that CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects have the potential to lower blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
CBD for Behavioral Issues
Unfortunately, some dogs may suffer from behavioral problems, which can result in aggression, nervousness, and destructive behaviors. There are many reasons for this: your dog may be afraid, in pain, territorial, or stressed. But there are also several steps you can take to try and reduce these negative behaviors, while also improving your dog’s life and health.
Firstly, you could enlist the help of a specialist to find the root cause of the behavior. But, if other approaches don’t work, CBD is a great, natural option that has no side effects and works almost immediately. It works by activating your dog’s ECS, specifically by boosting the production of serotonin and glutamate, which improves mood, alertness, and focus.
CBD for Phobias
If you’ve seen a dog on the 4th of July, you’ll know that our furry friends also get deathly scared. Fireworks and loud bangs are enough to scare anyone, let alone our dogs, so you shouldn’t worry if your dog is hiding under the table on New Year’s Eve (although some dog owners have found it helpful to administer a little CBD when they know there will be fireworks or other loud noises, to avoid their dog from becoming unnecessarily stressed).
However, if your dog’s fears and phobias are negatively affecting their life (and yours), regularly giving them CBD oil or CBD dog treats can be a lifesaver. CBD is great at reducing anxiety, and thousands of pet owners using CBD oil for their dogs are seeing excellent results.
CBD for Gastrointestinal Issues
Because of its holistic, positive effects on health, CBD can help with various gastrointestinal issues, whether they be chronic, or caused by inflammation, bacteria, allergens, or parasites. CBD reduces nausea and pain, thus relieving your dog of the main symptoms of gastrointestinal issues. CBD also helps cure or manage these symptoms by reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system.
It is especially important, in the case of gastrointestinal issues, that you choose the correct way of administering CBD to your dog. Based on their ailment, some dogs may not be able to digest certain treats, so keep that in mind when choosing to administer CBD to your dog.
CBD for Elderly Dogs and Dogs with Special Needs
All dogs can enjoy the benefits of CBD, and for some of our canine friends, this natural supplement can be a lifesaver. Elderly or disabled dogs, especially, need extra care, and CBD oil or other CBD products can play a vital role in their health and overall quality of life.
It’s common for older dogs to suffer from chronic pain, inflammation, and mobility issues, often caused by conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, osteoporosis, or from past injuries that flair back up in old age. In these cases, pain management is extremely important, and will make a big difference in your dog’s life.
Traditionally, pain management for dogs includes treatments with strong pain medications such as opioids. Like with humans, opioids are very effective at reducing pain, but they are also bad for your dog’s liver, are potentially lethal in large quantities, and can cause dependence.
CBD is a great natural alternative to opioids, as it doesn’t have serious side effects (scroll down to read about potential risks) and is non-toxic, so it will not damage your dog’s organs in any way.
In some cases, CBD can replace traditional pharmaceuticals, as its anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties are well known. But if your dog is in severe pain, you can use CBD to complement traditional medication. In fact, CBD enhances the effects of other pain medications (scientists are not entirely sure how, but it is thought that CBD activates the ECS, which is then able to respond better to the medication), so you can reduce the dose of strong medication, thus lessening potential side effects.
The same is true for dogs who have just been through surgery. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD will help your dog heal faster, and will boost their mood during recovery. Some dog parents choose to administer CBD before surgery too, as it can reduce stress and strengthen the immune system. However, always tell your vet before making this decision.
To recapitulate, CBD is especially important for:
- Elderly dogs
- Dogs with mobility issues
- Dogs who have gone through surgery
- Dogs with chronic or progressive diseases
- Dogs who suffer from inflammatory diseases such as arthritis
What are the Risks of Dogs Using CBD?
It seems like CBD came out of nowhere. Until recently, there was only a slim chance you’d heard about it. But fast forward a few years and CBD (both for pets and humans) is everywhere. With such a new product, it’s normal for dog owners to have some concerns about the use of CBD oil for dogs.
So what are the risks of giving CBD to your dog?
While there is, as of yet, no hard data about the potential side effects of CBD on dogs, CBD’s effects on humans can give us an idea. But before we dive into that end of the research pool, it’s important to stress that CBD is a natural and safe supplement that carries close to no risk if administered and dosed correctly.
Having said that, in some rare cases CBD can cause:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
Unlike traditional, man-made drugs, CBD also carries very little risk of overdosing. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be very careful when giving CBD to your dog. The main issue is that the CBD market has grown so fast — and is so poorly regulated — that there are some low-quality products out there. Some, for example, may contain higher quantities of THC than is safe for your dog, and could result in an overdose or intoxication. However, this is very rare and easily avoidable by sticking to trusted brands.
Because of contradictory guidelines, the American Veterinary Medical Association does not officially recommend CBD for dogs. But as the use of CBD for dogs spreads, vets are becoming more knowledgeable and aware. If you think your dog would benefit from CBD, speak to your vet to find out whether it is necessary and, if so, ask them to advise you on the correct dosage and the best products/brands for your dog.
CBD Treatments vs. Traditional Treatments for Dogs
While we (or any vet) would not recommend completely abandoning traditional medication in favor of CBD, it is worth noting that CBD is a great natural alternative to pharmaceuticals, either (when possible) as a replacement, or as a complement.
Traditional medication such as opioids, non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), steroids, and antihistamines are commonly prescribed to dogs, but they do have a long list of moderate to severe side effects, including:
- Stomach irritation
- Gastrointestinal ulceration and perforation
- Liver and kidney toxicity
- Kidney failure
- Decreased Immunity
- Muscle weakness
CBD is a great natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals because:
- Unlike traditional drugs, CBD has no long term, harmful effects
- It has a holistic effect, not tackling only one specific issue, but strengthening your dog’s overall health
- It’s all-natural
- It’s available without a prescription
Although CBD can, in some cases, replace other medications, it can also work well in conjunction with prescribed drugs. In fact, doctors and researchers have found that there are certain “synergistic benefits” to using CBD oil with analgesic (pain-relieving) medication, and that CBD can enhance the effects of traditional painkillers in some cases.
Is it Safe for My Dog to Take CBD While on Other Medication?
The Grapefruit Comparison
While CBD delivers a wide array of health-boosting benefits on its own, and can also work well with other drugs, it’s important to remember that CBD interacts differently with different substances and, in some cases, the results can be problematic.
CBD interacts with the ECS by, among other things, inhibiting the activity of cytochrome P450, a group of liver enzymes that break down substances and toxins that enter the body. By interacting with these receptors, CBD can change the effect that certain drugs have on the body.
Because CBD is relatively new on the market, few drug companies reference it on their labels. Luckily, however, grapefruit juice interacts with cytochrome P450 in the same way, and is often explicitly listed on labels of drugs it should not be mixed with. If one of the drugs you are administering to your dog carries a grapefruit juice warning, do not give your dog any CBD products.
Rather, consult with your vet and tell them about your interest in CBD, and they will be able to tell you whether or not, in your dog’s specific case, you can replace medicine with CBD treatments.
Getting the Dosage Right
Figuring out the correct CBD dosage for your dog can be stressful. Firstly, different CBD products and brands have widely different, and sometimes contradicting guidelines; secondly, the right dose really depends on the size of your dog, the health condition they are suffering from, and the condition’s severity.
For example, if your dog has mild anxiety or mild allergies, a low dose of CBD should suffice, but if you’re using CBD to manage your dog’s pain or treat a serious health condition, you would have to administer a higher dose.
Here are some things to take into account when deciding how much to administer:
- Your dog’s size and weight
- Overall health and possible health conditions
- Your dog’s activity level (which determines how fast it will metabolize substances)
- The potency of the CBD product and whether it is full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate
Although doses vary, the general recommendation is that for each pound of your dog’s weight, you should administer 0.2 mg/ml of CBD. The following chart will give you an idea of how much CBD you should give your dog, but remember that both the brand’s and your vet’s dosage advice should take precedence.
When starting a CBD treatment for your dog, make sure to start with a low dose and work up to a higher one if needed.
How Can I Give CBD to My Dog?
CBD oil for dogs comes in many different forms, and the one you choose will depend on several factors, including your dog’s preference and habits, and the health condition you’re treating.
You can choose to administer CBD orally through capsules or dog treats, or topically through the use of creams, balms, or sprays.
Tinctures and CBD oils are a favorite among dog owners because they are easy to “hide” in other foods (try putting a few drops on a dollop of peanut butter). The process makes it really easy to know exactly how much CBD your dog is ingesting, which is why CBD tinctures and oils are a perfect choice for dogs that are being treated for a specific ailment and need an exact amount of CBD.
Dog treats are another great choice (your dog will definitely think so), and work well if you are administering CBD to your dog for general health or mild anxiety, as opposed to a serious health condition such as epilepsy.
Balms and creams are good for dogs with painful joints, allergies that affect the skin, or inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
What to Look for in CBD Products for Dogs
With so many brands on the market, choosing the right one can seem daunting. Here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping for your four-legged friend:
- Make sure that the product you buy is specifically made for animals (or, even better, specifically for dogs), and do not use CBD products meant for humans. Humans and dogs have very different Endocannabinoid Systems, so different CBD formulations will work differently on each ECS.
CBD products made specifically for dogs also contain little to no THC, while there may be traces (or high amounts, depending on the product) of THC in CBD products for humans. This should be taken seriously, as THC can be toxic for dogs. To be on the safe side, always choose CBD that has been extracted from hemp rather than marijuana.
- Choose brands that use organic hemp — non-GMO, grown outdoors, and without the use of chemicals — in their formulation. This will eliminate any chance of chemicals or toxic traces in the CBD product that could be harmful to your dog’s health.
- Lab-tested and certified products should be your first choice. The best specialized CBD brands send their products to be tested by third parties, and have a Certificate of Analysis to prove it, so you know you can trust them.
CBD for Other Animals
If you have other animals you think could benefit from CBD, don’t fret! CBD really is the wellness product of the century, and it’s available for people and animals of all shapes, sizes, and ages. High-quality CBD products can be a healthy addition to your pet care.
CBD oil and CBD treats for cats are almost as popular as CBD products for dogs, and they are used on cats that suffer from skin and fur issues, appetite problems, diabetes, anxiety, and tumors.
Horses are known to sometimes be anxious, nervous animals, so CBD is great at stabilizing their moods and reducing stress. Horses also suffer from muscle and joint pain, as well as ailments such as arthritis and, after reading this article, you already know what a stellar job CBD does at relieving those conditions.
The Bottom Line
CBD products for dogs – whether in oil or a treat – are healthy supplements for our best friends. Because these are relatively new products, there is very little hard data that confirms CBD’s effects on dogs, but ongoing studies are looking into the myriad of ways CBD can impact a dog’s health and wellbeing.
There is also a ton of anecdotal evidence that supports what many pet owners have been saying for years — that CBD can offer great pain relief, reduce anxiety, and have an overall positive impact on health. But remember, like with any substance, you should treat CBD with care, and seek the advice of a veterinary specialist before using CBD oil for your dog.